from my diaries for 2016

I ordered some more sunflower seeds from the RSPB and at the end of the transaction appeared the phrase “I helped give nature a home”. Will nature give me one?

July 9    from pocket to pocket, to the mantelpiece, back to a pocket, this scrap of paper with notes from a radio interview a couple of years ago about the King’s Cross development:

– and what proportion is social housing?

– well, that process is constantly changing. At the moment there are 1800 housing units with a total of 4500 people.

He went on to talk about all the children running in and out of the fountains, about civic values, about politeness. Knowing the interviewer to be polite he no doubt realised he could safely ignore the question about social housing. But no doubt ‘constantly changing’ is right.

July 17    I dreamt that Sue B had a long piece, four whole pages, published in the LRB! And I have nothing! About Hannah, I think, but it was blurred, so blurred you could hardly read a thing. As if I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I don’t wear my glasses when I’m dreaming. I got up a bit sweaty and decided to have a shower. Since I fiddled with the controls I can’t get them right again. I turned the dials and grew very cold. I turned the dials and grew very hot. Shit and fuck I cursed. I cursed the shower, I cursed myself, I called out silently for help. The first time I said the word ‘fuck’ I was thirteen or fourteen. I was going to write fourteen, that’s the age I had in mind, then I thought if it was that particular staircase maybe I was a bit younger, in a different school building. We were going up a narrow, turning, noisy, stone staircase, a memory clustered with epithets. I don’t know why I said fuck but it was a coming of age. Friends mocked me, (was I known for not swearing?) but knew it was a momentous moment, when God began to leave me alone, and being alone felt right.

On the park-like landscape of Arizona, managed through fire by the native peoples, Captain Clarence Dutton of the U.S, Geological Survey wrote in 1882: ‘the trees are large and noble in aspect and stand widely apart, …. Instead of dense thickets where we are shut in by impenetrable foliage, we can look far beyond and see the tree trunks vanishing away like an infinite colonnade. The ground is unobstructed and inviting. There is a constant succession of parks and glades – dreamy avenues of grass and flowers winding between sylvan walls, or spreading broad, open meadows….’ quoted in ‘World Fire’ by Stephen Pyne, p 285. This wonderland was destroyed by the outlawing of fires and by overgrazing by the new colonists.

George Steiner’s ‘Errata’ is a book full of names – in many languages – but the village in the Franche Comté where he had a house – at least we assume he did – is left private and anonymous, it is ‘N’. The first sight of the place, driving down into it from limestone hills as a blizzard suddenly clears, leaves him and his wife breathless. (‘Genius loci, the ‘spirit of place’, which, like an unbidden bolt of recognition , transforms a landscape…’) The ensemble of the village is ‘earth-bound yet also mirage-like’.

‘I knew at once that there would be for me no greater perfection anywhere, that I had stumbled on home. This certainty has been confirmed each time I have returned.’

George finds architecture easier to describe than landscape. A château is a ‘small marvel of a 17th-18th century logis and circular donjon‘. But the ‘diverseness of the hills as they couch around the village is difficult to define’.

After a trip around some favourite places, Girona, Florence, the Negev, West 47th Street, the chapter ends: ‘But all this is tourism. In N., it will be tenure’. Of course, for an academic the idea of tenure has the permanence of home. And N. is particularly powerful in a life structured by diaspora. The book begins in Austria in the 1930’s, shortly before Steiner’s family went into exile.

September 4      working out with wood        the jungle gym

what have I done to my back? Looked forward to splitting big knotty spruce logs, ripped something (not wooden) with the first swing. That was last tuesday evening after I got back from G with a load in Jamie’s car, the second load. He had his operation two weeks ago now.

Lots of jam to make, fruit frozen. Made one small lot of mulberry yesterday. I could sleep again now…. thought I’d slept enough but I’m sitting at the window in the stove room/living room/study with a view of the drizzle, can’t quite see what those birds are, hopping about for fallen seed, the feeder empty again, beware of the cat! Only recently realised that you never see tits on the ground. Yes, they’re dunnocks, which I haven’t been seeing often. If I sold this house it would benefit the family, but two cheap places for rent would be lost. Cheap for the lodgers but they make me feel rich. Maish has paid lots of money for one tooth, to avoid a prominent gap. We talk a lot about money in general but not in personal terms. How much, I said. A lot, he said. How much, I said. £3000, he said. I said do you think you can get 3 for 2, that sort of thing, he said probably. But of course for me it would need to be – well, I don’t know how many. I have four left. Even I was surprised to discover how few when I did a count just now. I don’t know how many have been lost. The house is tatty. At least I’ve got in touch with Andrew Ceresa, who can do some work in november.

September 17

Do you like my semi-colons? My ethnic costume?

through the window, the axe without its engine, rusting,                                                                    its fibre glass handle stronger than hickory or ash                                                                            in my back the burnt muscles. and I can see the stacked logs with rips and shreds, bits of the knots still holding

Anyway, I woke with words in my head, relieved to be relieved of a classic dream in which I was about to spend an ultimate, examined day producing a decisive essay on books I had scarcely read, in a house with various rooms and people now unknown and the clutter of unstable laptops, a long day never long enough

they said yesterday that a train ran into a landslide and was derailed and that heavy rain had impacted the motorway, and that was enough to derail my brain, or divert it onto the sidings of grammar. I have a picture somewhere of a road impacted, Manor road, tarmac eruptions, concrete shingles; I wonder if I can find it; and the water in spouts.



Another thing that used to be impacted was wisdom teeth. They’ve all been dug out now, except for one. So impacted was something dug in, like a bunker, but also and more commonly could refer to a smooth surface, the shiny wing of a car for example, that was blemished or crumpled in a collision, or the smooth skin and floating bones of a body crushed, an impact which you don’t survive

and while we’re on words, there she is again, the bizarrely named Sarah More Peach, whom the written word finally revealed as Sarah Mohr-Pietsch, and yes, annoyingly some constructions still call for a ‘whom’ and who cares? I mean not who cares about whom, that would be nobody, I mean who cares if I’m an old prat for insisting.

now I see it again I remember the geology of it, how the tarmac lifted in sedimentary plates, which could be the scars of recent repairs; they were always out there digging and patching and rolling.

Another cat out there beside the wood pile, patient as an axe handle;  the rodents must be well dug in.     the firewood bunker.

On my back through the park from the osteopath the personal trainers were still there. One in particular, a black guy, in his forties I would guess, well built but with enough fat round his middle to make him a comfortable sort of person, not an intimidating hard muscled type. His client, a small, slight white woman was lying on her front on the concrete table tennis table, and he was carefully folding her bent leg back so that her heel touched her back. As I passed I heard the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Obama’, and it occurred to me that bonds are made between Europeans of different cultures by referring to outrages in America.
Then I thought of how many body workers there are these days. All the trainers and physios and osteos, feet to fingernails, and so many lines of attack to get to the spirit within. It used to be just doctors, although you’d be lucky if they actually touched you. And the priest placing a wafer on the tongue. And then I thought of firemen rescuing people from burning buildings. And then I thought of how at Mossbourne Academy the children are forbidden any physical contact. Two girls walking arm in arm would be somehow subversive.






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